Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin

1996; 807 pages. Book One of the series "A Song of Ice and Fire". Genre : Epic Fantasy. Awards : Locus Award - 1997; World Fantasy Award - 1997; Hugo Award (Best Novella) - 1997; Nebula Award 1997. It kicked Fantasy Award butt that year. Overall Rating : A-.
A Game Of Thrones gives a wink and a nod to Tolkien and Robert Jordan, then blazes a new path with a gritty, dark approach to Epic Fantasy. GRRM intertwines three complex storylines here.
The main one involves the island/continent/kingdom of Westeros, where an uneasy peace exists until the king dies, leading almost overnight to a bitter civil war between at least five powerful Houses.
The secondary plot follows the Dothraki, a Hun-like force marauding in a land across the narrow sea to the east, where exiled princes plot their revenge and eggs of long-gone dragons still survive. Thirdly, in the north of Westeros, the undermanned Night's Watch attempts to maintain a wall of ice and keep out an assortment of "others", "wildlings", and undead.
What's To Like...
If you're tired of black-&-white, two-dimensional characters that never evolve, then AGOT is for you. The heroes have faults; some of their children are brats; and the villains have redeeming qualities. In this cold, dark setting where sometimes even main chatacters die too soon, some much-enjoyed wit is surprisingly supplied by one of the bad guys. GRRM uses a Point-of-View narration, with the reader seeing the world through the eyes of one of eight different characters. This is especially effective when Tyrion (the wit) is showcased. The prevailing "House Stark is good; House Lannister is bad" duality is shown to be a simplification of a much more complex, "gray" affair.
In certain ways, AGOT is the polar opposite of Jordan's Wheel Of Time series. There is some magic here, but it takes backseat to political intrigue and a strong sword-arm. And although "here there be dragons, monsters, and undead", for the most part the action involves only humans. That of course could change in subsequent books. Finally prophecy and predestination, so inevitable and immutable in WoT, are unreliable and trivial in AGOT.
The cast of characters can be daunting at first, so Martin adds an Appendix that helps you keep track of who is born of, sworn to, or married to whom.
"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die."
This is not a book for everyone. At 807 pages, it's not something to start reading on December 29th when you are short one book of reaching your 5-Squared target. It took me more than a week, and that included eight hours on an airplane. It's also not one for the kiddies - there is rape, incest, sexuality, cussing, and blood-and-gore violence in it, all of it graphic.
In the end, I gave A Game Of Thrones an A- because the good points far outweigh the bad. Yet I may or may not continue to read the series. Why?
Well, AGOT came out in 1996, and as of today, three more books in the projected series of seven have been released. That leaves (at least) three to go. Will we have to wait another 13 years for the conclusion of A Song Of Ice And Fire? I hope not. But George R.R. Martin will be 60 years old this year, and I've already had to deal with Robert Jordan dying before completing his spanning-17-years WoT series. I'm hesitant to commit to another 6,000 pages and waiting more than a decade for a resolution to the story.


Kailana said...

I really need to read this book. I have owned it forever! I probably will wait for the next book to be released, though, because it is taking a while.

hamilcar barca said...

if you haven't yet read A Game Of Thrones, then you (and I) still have a lot of pages to read before we catch up to awaiting Volume 5. Like Robert Jordan, GRRM gets "wordier" with time. Book #2 is 900+ pages, and Book #3 is more than a thousand. Lord only knows how many pages #4 is; it wasn't at the store where i saw the rest of these.

Jocelyn said...

The hardback edition of Feast is a measly 684 pages proceeded by the appendix and sample from Dance.

I really love these books. I would recommend continuing to read them, but it's likely it will take more than your 13 years for the series to be finished.

Word was Feast got split into two--so actually it and Dance were supposed to be one book, but it got too long so he divided it. For a book that was supposed to be completed at the same time as Feast, it's taking a really long time to get to us. :/

It's an awesome series anyway.

terry said...

i have a feeling Book #2 is going to be even better than A Game of Thrones, because AGOT had to devote a lot of pages early on to "setting the scene".

i'll undoubtedly end up reading more the next book. but i'm still edgy about getting addicted to a series where the author is 60 years old and is decades away from finishing it.

Amber said...

My girlfriend likes fantasy, and she likes complex stuff, so I was thinking of suggesting this to her, but the mention of the index sealed the deal.

hamilcar barca said...

the index was a real plus. he introduced lotsa names at the beginning, and it would've been a royal pain to keep track of them. instead, a quick flip to the back of the book, and i knew who was who.

logankstewart said...

This series is amazing, but the Robert Jordan problem is definitely a possibility here. I hope not, though.